Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Generosity of the Pinetree

Never mind what I said a couple posts back about a thing newly learned becoming ordinary. It never does. Not if you come back to it with another round of deep attention. Last September, for instance, I noticed and photographed and wrote about the plethora of pinecone cores the squirrels dropped. The cores are falling again and they're just as surprising in 2010 as they were in 2009, but for a different noticing. What I should have said about careful observation is that no matter how often you attend an ordinary thing, a new truth presents, yet allowing more to know in exchange for the simple act of paying attention.

Today it's not the barren cores that reveal more, but the extracted teeth of them. My good friend and neighbor Peggy described them as razor blades in her driveway. They are the same in my yard: sharp-tipped as needles and tough enough not to break when you step on them in stocking feet.

Until today, when they sprinkled down on me in the swing from a squirrel's shredding station directly overhead, I had assumed these sharp teeth came from the dried brown cones that also begin to fall at this time of year. But no. I picked up a tooth the moment it fell. It was cold and damp to the touch, green-tipped and fresh looking, not in the least dry or brown or brittle---from which I learned that the cones the squirrels select to shred are this year's new green ones, not last year's dry, brown, and already opened ones. Last year's cones are falling on their own.

But of course. The squirrels shred the green cones to find fresh seeds at the roots of the teeth. One seed per tooth. They would have no use for last year's dead cones.

I had noticed the beautiful reddish brown color of the stripped cores that fell, but had not made the connection that they came only from new green cones---and I had many times read to my first graders that squirrels and chipmunks eat pinecone seeds, but never knew fully what that meant. Today's observation has also corrected my assumption that one pinecone bore one seed for the purpose of pine tree regeneration. But no, the seeds per cone are many. Now it all makes more sense.

I am well aware that botanists have long ago studied and written about these things. But I didn't know them until I paid attention and learned from the inside out. That makes all the difference.

The generosity of the pine tree is staggering when considered. Behold the gifts she bequeaths the earth. Beauty and shade and wintergreen for us. Homes and food and protection for woodland creatures. Pinestraw to cool and renew the earth at her feet. The very oxygen we breathe. Wonder. Magnificence. Awe. Her tall silhouette against the sky. And yet we destroy her.

Janisse Ray has recently written it most brilliantly in Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, about the destruction of the Southern Yellow Pine forests.

And finally, with apologies to Robert Frost:

The way a squirrel rained down on me
the teeth from the fruit of a pinecone tree
has taught me that truth is not readily known,
but revealed over time, when observed
as a cone. dkm


Book Worm said...

Lovely! Thanks for telling me about your blog. Hope you'll consider sharing at NDPC. You might enjoy Julie Zickefoose's blog at Mary


Wonderful post. It is quite lovely to think about it, as the pinetree feeds the squirrel as if it were her own child. Really enjoyed reading this!

dkm said...

Thanks, Samuel. My next goal is to make shorter blog posts, so as not to take so much time from my real writing---but the pine tree got me going :-) How do you balance blog time with your real work?

Anonymous said...

I have noticed these pine cone cores, but as they relate to my old lab, Sadie. After the squirrels finish with them, they throw them to the ground for Sadie, who grabs them as if they were a treat and munches away. So the pine tree feeds yet another animal!

Anonymous said...

Such an interesting post. Oh I wish we had squirrels here! It just shows how tough the squirrels are when they can chew into something hard and sharp like pinecones.
Re - Pukeko G, he is my partner Geoff :o) He wanted to comment on my blog so I set up a blog for him. I keep asking him to blog about something but he doesnt know what to write haha. I have forwarded your blog on to him as he will be interested in reading it.
A blog that I know you will like is my dear friend Jane's...

You remind me a lot of her XX

dkm said...

Aha! I knew he must be someone special. Tell him to write about the earth worms. I would love to hear his take on life, if he thinks of earthworms in a quake.

I also checked out and commented on your friend Jane's blog---lovely, indeed.

As for the squirrels. It's all in what you become accustomed to, methinks. I'd love having your exotic birds here. The squirrels are ubiquitous in Georgia! Some consider them pests. They are definitely cute to watch. If you ever travel in the U.S. come to visit us, and you can see all the squirrels you like.

Jane Robertson said...

Thanks Niki for making this connection...

I love the theme of paying deep attention and returning to something again to look more deeply or differently.

They are little works of art those pinecone cores!

Pukeko G said...

These look like creatures from the deep .. I can imagine a shoal being chased by whales ..

Anonymous said...

I'll get you, my pretty, and your little dog, too!

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